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Trauma and addiction often go hand-in-hand. Unresolved trauma, whether it be from childhood or adulthood, can lead to a plethora of challenging emotions. Further, it is common for individuals to use alcohol and other drugs in an attempt to cope with these distressing feelings. This is why learning to heal from trauma is often an essential part of treatment for substance use. 

Addiction as a Result of Trauma

According to a 2010 study from Depression and Anxiety, “Exposure to traumatic experiences, especially those occurring in childhood, has been linked to substance use disorders, including abuse and dependence.” Traumatic experiences can often lead one to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mood-related conditions that have high co-morbidity rates with addiction.

Further, the study found that in a highly traumatized population group, “High rates of lifetime dependence on various substances were found.” The level of substance use correlated strongly with levels of “childhood physical, sexual, and emotional abuse as well as current PTSD symptoms.” 

Self-Medicating to Cope With Trauma

In efforts to cope with trauma and the challenging emotions it can cause, many people, unfortunately, turn to substance use to self-medicate. Self-medicating practices, however, tend to exacerbate underlying mental health issues as well as contribute to the development of addiction. What may seem to be an innocent attempt to relieve one’s overwhelming emotions can soon become a substance use disorder (SUD). This is why it is essential for individuals to heal from their own traumas to prevent problematic substance use from occurring in their life.

Types of Trauma

Unfortunately, there are many different types of trauma that people can experience. SAMHSA describes individual trauma as “an event or circumstance resulting in physical harm, emotional harm, and/or life-threatening harm.” 

Some potentially traumatic events may include:

  • Sexual assault
  • Physical assault
  • Natural disasters
  • Child neglect
  • Domestic violence
  • Car accidents
  • Severe injuries
  • Combat or war
  • Bullying and harassment

There is no definitive “list of trauma”, as trauma can be any experience that has severely impacted a person’s overall health and well-being. What is considered traumatic to one person may not be traumatic to another. It’s important to practice compassion for others and recognize that trauma can have lifelong effects.

Signs & Symptoms of Trauma

Sometimes you or a loved one may be affected by trauma and not even know it. It’s crucial to know the signs and symptoms of trauma in order to heal from these experiences.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) 57, initial reactions to trauma can include “exhaustion, confusion, sadness, anxiety, agitation, numbness, dissociation, confusion, physical arousal, and blunted affect.” There are also delayed or ongoing reactions to trauma, which can include “persistent fatigue, sleep disorders, nightmares, fear of recurrence, anxiety focused on flashbacks, depression, and avoidance of emotions, sensations, or activities that are associated with the trauma, even remotely.”

Different people can react to trauma in different ways. SAMSHA also explains that “many people who experience a traumatic event will go on with their lives without lasting negative effects.” Others may have difficulties, where the trauma can manifest as behavioral health conditions, or even chronic physical health conditions.

Seeking Help for Addiction Caused By Trauma

When addiction is caused by traumatic experiences, there is a great need for comprehensive treatment. Thanks to advanced research and an understanding of addiction as a disease, treatment options are becoming more available all over the country. 

Dual Diagnosis and Co-occurring Disorders

Many people who struggle with SUD also struggle with a co-occurring mental health condition. It is crucial that both diseases are treated simultaneously. 

PTSD and SUD are one of the most common forms of dual diagnosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PTSD is “an intense physical and emotional response to thoughts and reminders of the event that last for many weeks or months after the traumatic event.” Unfortunately, many people live with PTSD and may not even know it. They may turn to drugs and alcohol to mask their pain, which can inevitably lead to addiction. 

Other conditions that may co-occur with SUD can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders
  • Bipolar disorder

Outpatient Treatment Options

In order to fully understand a person’s SUD, professionals need to assess the root of their trauma. Quality outpatient treatment programs adopt trauma-informed treatment approaches to ensure that these underlying causes are addressed.

Therapeutic modalities offered in treatment will help individuals to learn how to process their trauma so that they can truly heal from it. Group therapy is a wonderful method where members can talk about their traumas and addictions with others that have had similar experiences. Groups can foster necessary accountability for members to achieve their goals and be an outlet of support when they need it the most.

Trauma and addiction often go hand-in-hand. Research has shown a strong link between traumatic experiences and substance use disorder, and trauma can affect anyone at any age. Traumatic experiences will often lead to mental health conditions, so it’s crucial that substance abuse treatment centers incorporate dual diagnosis treatment into their programming. At Lighthouse Recovery Texas, we utilize a comprehensive approach to treat addiction, mental health disorders, and dual diagnoses with our integrative, custom-built curriculum. Every client at Lighthouse has access to psychiatric care, along with individual therapy, group programming, and holistic methods to help you get to the root of your trauma so you can begin to heal. Call us today at (214) 396-0259.